THE EMPEROR’S BIRTHDAY (Toyohara Kunichika)

N.1 ukiyo-e woodblock print
Year: 1877
Condition: very good
Size: 24 x 36 cm



Beautiful original woodblock print made in January 1877 by the artist Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周) and depicting Otomo Wakana (大友若菜), played by the actor Onoe Kikugoro V (五代目尾上菊五郎). The young princess holds in her hand the magic scroll with which she summoned a tsuchigumo (土蜘蛛) giant spider who helped her to carry out her revenge on the Kikuchi clan (菊池家), responsible for her father’s death in the context of a feud.

The work, produced by the publisher Takegawa Seikichi (武川清吉) and by the carver Ishikawa Ginjiro (石川銀次郎), is taken from the “Twenty-four Examples of the New Civilization” (開化廿四好), an interesting and rare series in which the artist pairs kabuki portraits with small scenes presenting modern inventions or modernized activities from the Meiji era (明治時代): in this case the pairing is between the magic scroll, as well as the scroll of fabric supported in the upper right corner by a spider, and the Hinomaru (日の丸) flags waving on the occasion of the Emperor’s birthday, which in 1868 was introduced by decree into the Japanese calendar to be celebrated as a national holiday.

The print on Japanese washi paper (和紙), therefore entitled “Flags for the Emperor’s Birthday” (天長節之旗), despite the right signs of aging and a partial trimming of the margins, is in overall very good condition, thanks also to an effective relining carried out on the back.